Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
For thirty-one years, Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) has been the voice crying in the wilderness. The cry has been for renewal of our ancient, apostolic faith within our pluralistic, American, cultural context. The hallmarks of this renewal are characterized by the de-tribalization of the separate Orthodox Christian jurisdictions that evolved here, so that they could work in canonical unity; administer the Church in ways that are accountable and transparent; and respect and include the input of the laity in matters of administration, governance and our journey together as a community of faithful. OCL has not wavered from its mission and has presented programs, written books and published pamphlets, passed resolutions and developed a web site (ocl.org) to present its mission and to report on and highlight events and movements within American Orthodoxy as they relate to its mission.
It was our hope that as we embarked upon the 21st Century and with over 200 years of history in the Americas with a well-established infrastructure of churches and properties, seminaries, publishing capabilities and technology, theologians, teachers, priests and saints, that we would be a more unified, open, multicultural-universal Church bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters around us. Within the last 30 years, we have observed that inconsistent efforts have been made to move forward, but that we cannot shake the immigrant, insular, fragmented ways that keep us divided. Therefore, instead of experiencing growth, we remain static, and collectively as Orthodox Christians, we are not growing.
The hierarchy of the Church is in a time warp. The Assembly of Bishops, which is an effort to bring about unity, is at a standstill. The Orthodox Church in the United Sates, except for the Orthodox Church in America, is a colonial Church administered from abroad by Patriarchs and hierarchs who see the faithful here as extensions of their immigrant homelands. Foreign governments see the Church here as an extension of their foreign policy. The response here is that assimilated folks leave the Church, or they remain as nominal, occasional members who are apathetic about their faith commitment. Others are overwhelmed by the secular environment of the day and leave. Presently, we also see the development of Orthodox Christian fundamentalism, which presents new obstacles. Those who choose to be an Orthodox Christian face many hurdles. Despite these hurdles, seekers looking for the apostolic Church do become Orthodox and are a breath of fresh air.
The largest jurisdiction, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States, is presently experiencing many administrative difficulties from finance to governance, because it has not embraced the values of working in the “sunshine” of accountability and transparency. It is in crisis. Within the next week, we will see how the crisis plays out with the election of a Metropolitan for Chicago. Will the election here bring forth the best candidate that understands the need for renewal and will be able to energize the faithful and contribute to the Assembly of Bishops? Will the Synod of the Patriarchate in Istanbul respect the decision and process which it has already rejected once, forcing the resubmission of the list of candidates? The election process is “byzantine.” Will the needs of the faithful in Chicago prevail or will it be business as usual?
OCL Executive Director
I speak to this as an outsider that was theologically trained Orthodox. I feel for you, I truly do. The ancient hierarchy of the Church has devolved into petty squabbles and arguments about things that really haven’t applied for well over a thousand years. The truth is that none of these hierarchs overseas which have apostolic jurisdiction over communities here in the United States really care about what is best for the Church in the United States. The Orthodox Church in the United States might as well be the thirteen colonies, and the Patriarchs overseas “King George III”. It does not help that the tribalism separating the various branches of the Orthodox Church in the US is often ingrained in the membership of those local communities. They do not see themselves as smaller parts of the larger One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, but they see themselves as the only real church and everyone else as foreigners to a large degree. It also does not help, as you alluded to, that the Russian patriarchate is at the beck and call of the Russian government whose interests are opposed to that of the United States at present. I’ve read your newsletters off and on for many years now hoping that someone will come to their senses, but they’re so caught up in their own self importance they can’t see that their congregations are dead and dying over here. These patriarchs may sit in the apostles’ seats, but they do nothing to advance the interests or gospel of Jesus Christ, and appear to work actively against His express will. The ridiculousness of it is seen in the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople who consecrate Bishops to Church dioceses that no longer exist and have no parishnors. How is this helpful? How does this advance the Gospel of Christ? The Hagia Sophia itself is no longer under Church control or in Church hands and hasn’t been for a very long time. The Ecumenical Patriarch himself is a pastor of nothing and no one and only exists because the Church says he must exist because of the political situation at the time of the first ecumenical council in the fourth century. You are fighting a losing battle if you continue to look to the Patriarchs of the Church overseas for leadership and guidance. They maintain a careful show and facade, but in practice are in fact “white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” and frankly, they just don’t care any more. Harsh? Yes. But it is also reality.
I could not have expressed myself better! I wholeheartedly agree, 100%, with this writer!
When we talk about Russia, we are talking about a country that leads the world in growing Christianity (200 Churches last year alone) and they are our Orthodox Brothers and Sisters. I’m not sure what policy the gentleman above is referring to but, Putin is the one that saved the Orthodox Christians from being wiped out
in Syria, at Syria’s request.
It is unfortunate when one equates Church growth the building of Churches. I think a much better barometer would be the rate of abortions.
It is not difficult to build “Churches” when the government pays for them.. and it serves the interests of the State to use the Church for its political purposes. Perhaps you are from Greece, where the Church is also the “established religion” of the State (even if the State is currently led by an atheist/secularist who refused to take his oath of office from the leader of the Church and who prides himself on refusing to wear a tie at meetings with World leaders).
In a country like the US, where the Churches and the State are separated.. people are free to worship as they choose but without being officially recognized and support by the State, Churches depend solely upon their own faithful in order to grow. When those faithful are ignored and disrespected by their leaders.. when their voices are silenced and their gifts are squandered.. the resulting decline in numbers and financial support cannot be unexpected.
Putin as “Savior of Christians” in Syria? When he backed Assad’s chemical bombing of civilians, did Putin make sure that Christians were not among those who were gassed? Putin is in Syria because Putin wants to project Russian influence in the middle-east (and counter US influence) .. not to protect Christians. Putin did not invade Crimea and is not supporting separatists in the Ukraine to support Christians.. he’s there to regain some of the territory of the former Soviet Union and keep Ukraine away from NATO.
Putin is a KGB thug. Wearing a cross and visiting Mt. Athos doesn’t qualify him to be called a “savior of Orthodox Christians”.. in Syria or anywhere else. I once read a wise saying from a rancher out West: “Just because you call yourself a horse, doesn’t make you a horse.”
Dear Mr. Matsoukas:
I have been a passive reader of your newsletter for some time. I am a lifelong Orthodox, raised in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). I wholeheartedly and sadly agree with your remarks. You are truly a voice crying in the wilderness. Orthodox unity in the United States is more elusive than ever, in spite of the adaptation of immigrant descendants to the United States, with the ethnically identified churches being viewed as an extension of the homelands, including all of their politics. Russian politics infects the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state sees the faith as an extension of its foreign policy. You correctly note that there is another imminent danger, that of fundamentalism, which is afflicting all of the churches as well. I have no solutions to offer. I merely observe sadly the alienation that results when one is an American, but is asked by one’s church to constantly focus on another country, and when the most observant members of the church become entangled with extreme fundamentalism, deny science, and seek to return to a medieval way of life.